NAIROBI — Somali refugees living in Kenya are returning to Somalia by the hundreds after the Kenyan government ordered them to go back home. The Kenyan government says the presence of Somali refugees has led to the deterioration of security in the country. The Somalis themselves fear a government crackdown.
This week, the Kenyan government began relocating more than 50,000 Somalis living in Kenyan cities back to overcrowded and under-serviced refugee camps near the border, citing security concerns. Thousands are also being flown back to Somalia.
The government directive targets people like Anab Duale, a mother of six who fled Somalia twelve years ago to escape fighting over the disputed territory between Somaliland and Puntland where she lived.
She says when she first arrived in Kenya it was a peaceful place and its people treated her and the Somali people well.
“To be honest with you life was good here, Kenyan people were good people, but now the public have turned against us," said Anab. "They just came with a ruling that has made people run away day and night. Police are even coming storming residential areas to arrest people.”
Kenyan authorities began sweeping Somali neighborhoods following a series of grenade attacks targeting bus stations, mosques and churches last year. Kenyan officials have blamed the attacks on the Somali militant group al-Shabab and its sympathizers, and have arrested hundreds of people suspected of being involved.
Anab says she does not want to move back to Somalia, but that the police pressure in Nairobi has made life here too difficult.
“The police are still making arrests," she said. "The other night they were just here arresting boys especially. I am saying they have to work on the security of the country and maintain the peace we once had.”
It is noticeably quieter these days in the Nairobi neighborhood of Eastleigh. Many of the vendors and shops in this predominantly-Somali area have shut down in recent months, and the streets are nearly deserted.
Thirty-six-year-old Hassan Hashi says he has been forced to close down his business and that he is ready to go back home.
Hashi says he doesn't work now and the security situation has deteriorated. He says merchants he used to take goods from have refused to sell goods to him when they heard that people were returning back to Somalia. And he says he has decided to go back home because police are arresting people 24 hours a day.
The Somali embassy in Kenya has been busy for the last three months issuing thousands of travel documents to people like Hashi who have volunteered to return to Somalia.
Somalia’s ambassador to Kenya says the number of flights going to Somalia has increased. He says there are at least two flights a day from Kenya to Mogadishu with each flight carrying 150 to 180 passengers.
The ambassador characterizes the travel as a good thing, saying it is a sign his country is moving toward being a peaceful and stable nation, after years of civil war.
Kenya's decision to relocate refugees has been condemned by the United Nations refugee agency and and human rights organizations. The rights groups say the decision to forcibly place refugees and asylum seekers in camps away from urban centers is a discriminatory and unlawful restriction on freedom of movement.